Israel Allows Hundreds of Thousands More Civilians to Carry Guns

'Skilled civilians carrying a gun in public contribute to a sense of security,' public security minister says

A shooting range.
Tomer Appelbaum

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is easing restrictions to obtain a permit for owning a gun, which will make hundreds of thousands of additional civilians eligible to carry a firearm.

According to the plan, reported in Haaretz last month, any citizen with what as known as level 7 Rifleman training, as is the case with most infantry units in Israel, will be able to apply for a gun permit.

“Skilled civilians carrying a gun in public contribute to a sense of security, act as an important line of defense against lone-wolf terror attacks and ...thus increase public security,” Erdan said on Monday. The new policy, he said, “strikes a balance between the need to defend the public which might be at risk and the need to protect the public from incorrect use of a firearm.”

There are approximately 145,000 gun-license holders in Israel at present. This number does not include people who have firearms because their job requires it, and does not include soldiers and police. Gun licenses must be renewed every three years.

The plan now being completed by the Public Security Ministry would allow almost anyone who has done combat service in the Israeli army to apply for a permit. The ministry believes that among the hundreds of thousands of people who meet this requirement, about 35,000 to 40,000 people will actually apply, boosting the number of permit holders to about 200,000.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, May 21, 2018.
\ Gil Cohen-Magen

At present, a person must be at least 21 years of age and in good health to apply for a permit. Other conditions include residence in a West Bank settlement, a border area or an area near the separation barrier. Since entering office, Erdan has enthusiastically supported increasing the number of people in possession of a privately owned legal firearm, in light of the wave of terror and the number of armed civilians who have managed to thwart attacks.

MK Haneen Zoabi slammed Erdan's new gun plan in statement released Tuesday in which she said his ministry "wants to control Arab citizens, and impose fear on Arab streets." For this reason, they are building police stations and recruiting Arab police officers, she said.  

In 2016, on Erdan’s initiative, officers with the rank of lieutenant and above who are still serving in the reserves were added to the list of people who could apply for a gun license, along with veterans of elite military units, farmers, tour guides and first aid personnel. After that, thousands more people received licenses to own a firearm.

Social action groups have come out against Erdan’s plan to put more firearms into private hands, out of concern they may be used for other purposes. An umbrella group calling itself “Gun on the Kitchen Table,” which advocates greater restrictions on gun ownership, has cited two murders committed by security guards with licensed firearms over the past year, as well as the case of Nashat Milhem, who committed a terror attack on Dizengoff Street in 2016 using a sub-machine gun that his father possessed legally.

“Until a few years ago, the trend was to restrict the presence of weapons in public places as a means of preventing needless casualties, but since Erdan came into office we see just the opposite,” attorney Debbie Gild-Hayo of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said. Weapons endanger the public, Gild-Hayo added, because they can be used against family members, in particular, the murder of women, and for suicide as well as various crimes, along with accidental discharges and other accidents.

“As if that were not enough, in meetings of the Knesset Interior Committee, MKs fought for the right to moderate training requirements claiming that they pose a burden on people who own guns. It seems that our elected officials have forgotten their obligation to ensure the welfare of the public and strike a proper balance between security needs and the protection of civilians from the danger of numerous lethal weapons in the public sphere,” Gild-Hayo said.